By Chris Bowers (c) Flying Shingle Monday, April 7, 2014
Holmes’ introduction presages a play that speaks to small town parochialism, and what it means for a society when the right to take a position outside of received “wisdom” is outlawed.The play, which was performed by the Players March 21 to 23 at the Rollo Centre, is a fictionalised account of a 1925 trial in Dayton Tennessee. In real life the “Scopes Monkey Trial” ended in the conviction of schoolteacher John T. Scopes for teaching the theory of evolution in defiance of Tennessee state law.
The 1955 play’s larger message however had to do with the way McCarthyism was limiting intellectual freedom in the US. It pits two out-of-town lawyers: Mathew Harrison Brady (Mark Smith) and Henry Drummond (Garry Davey), hired by the fictional “Baltimore Herald”, against each other against a backdrop of Christian fundamentalism in a small town experiencing its 15 minutes of fame, and not exactly sure how it feels about that. While the play and the court case invite the two lawyers to a caricature of progressive vs. regressive thinking, Smith and Davey avoided that trap, depicting the complexities of men whose friendship has frayed, and who show a sense of their social responsibilities beyond the publicity and podium the court case provides.
While the play’s cast was large, and all were convincing, others whose performances stood out in the March 21 production were Victor Anthony’s channeling of Southern fundamentalist preacher Rev. Jeremiah Brown, and Donna Deacon’s persuasive portrayal of the aloof, cynical, and downright obnoxious journalist/“critic” E.K. Hornbeck.
While Scopes – or Bert Cates (Alex Dewar) as he was called in the play – was found guilty in both real life and Inherit the Wind, the latter makes it clear that this was not so in the court of public opinion outside of the small town in which the court case was held.
And with Drummond promising to appeal the conviction, playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee intimate, let’s hope not wishfully, that the right to think for oneself is also not so easily revoked.